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It worked! Yesterday afternoon my 50′ Ethernet cable was delivered so now the laptop in the kitchen has a wired connection. (Today’s project, routing it along baseboards and such… right now it is just laying on the floor. LOL)

I installed Parsec and started streaming World of Warcraft from the upstairs machine and almost instantly forgot it was streaming. For all practical purposes it may as well have been running on the local machine. From here on out older games and games that aren’t graphically demanding will get installed upstairs, and the precious space on the laptop will be reserved for new graphically intense games like Anthem or The Division 2.

Two tiny issues. When you connect to the host, Parsec mutes the host, which is a good thing, but when you adjust the volume on the local machine it also seems to adjust it on the host and in doing so seems to unmute it. This is more a problem for Angela than for me since she is usually up there in the office and has to re-mute the host.

[Update: Sometimes the simplest solutions elude me. I’ve just started turning off the speakers on the host machine when I’m not using them. Problem solved!]

Second, if I get to where I want to do voice chat with a game installed on the host I’ll have to figure that out. I guess you connect to Discord (or whatever) on the local machine and then connect to the host for the game, but I’m wondering what happens if you need to adjust levels or anything like that. Not sure this will ever even become an issue but it’s something to puzzle out.

All in all, though, I’m super happy and can’t recommend Parsecgaming highly enough, if you’re in the market for something like this. Forget Steam In-Home streaming. Just use Parsec.

So after my semi-failed experiment in streaming games from my old machine upstairs to the entertainment center downstairs I thought I was done with PC gaming once again.

Then I had to buy a laptop. See, “my” laptop was actually provided by the company I worked for. They got bought and I thought I’d sort-of inherited the laptop but nope, last week I was told I needed to return it. I really wanted a laptop for ‘downstairs use’ so I started shopping. And then I got a crazy idea, and expanded my shopping horizons to include gaming laptops. Thanks to advice from Stargrace I wound up with an MSI, specifically the GS65 Stealth Thin.

This was the dumbest possible time to buy a new laptop since CES just happened and Nvidia announced the RTX chipset and all that but I’ve never been known to have a shred of patience.

After getting over some sticker-shock induced buyer’s remorse, I’m pretty happy with the machine except for the puny SSD drive inside (512 GB). I’d read that there is a 2nd SSD slot so figured I’d just install an additional TB drive, but didn’t research things thoroughly enough. To get to that slot you have to basically take the entire laptop apart, voiding the warranty, AND a TB SSD drive is $200-$250 and honestly I’ve spent enough for now. But I have a plan.

I skipped the whole ‘hook it to the TV’ idea and set up a desk in the corner of the kitchen devoted to PC gaming. Then I connected a 3 TB external drive and installed Steam on the external drive. I figure I’ll put most of my games on the external drive since I’ll be playing them seated at the desk with external mouse (and eventually bigger monitor) anyway, and I can just disconnect that drive when I just want a laptop to sit on the couch and do Internet stuff. Thanks to the machine having USB 3.1 ports, and the external drive also supporting USB 3, the access speed doesn’t seem to be a huge problem. ~knock on wood~ Eventually I might upgrade to an SSD Thunderbolt external but again, the cost of the laptop has definitely used up my “fun money” for the time being.

But then an even BETTER idea hit me. My machine upstairs can play older games and indie-type games, perfectly well, and it has plenty of drive space. I can still put Parsec streaming to use. I can stream older games from the upstairs PC and just install the latest or least input-lag sensitive games on the laptop itself. I haven’t tried this yet since I’m waiting for a 50′ ribbon Ethernet cable to run a hard line to the kitchen (Wi-Fi is a little dodgy in there) and then I’ll put it to the test.

My hope is that by the time this gaming laptop gets long in the tooth one or more of the various cloud-streaming services will have things working well enough that this can be my last GPU purchase, but we’ll see. The laptop has the GTX 1070 MAX-Q or something like that. QMAX? Anyway, not as fast as a proper 1070 but the display is 1080P and it seems fast enough to run today’s games at High or Ultra settings and still get 60 FPS. I wouldn’t try to drive a 4K display with this machine, though. Basically it was the best mobile GPU I could afford, and it’s why the hard drive is so small. For a similar price I could’ve got a 1060 MAX-Q and a 1 TB drive but I figured the GPU was more important.

One last obstacle. Whenever I’m sitting at the desk playing games, Lola is on the couch looking very confused and upset that I’m not over there with her. So next step is to get a doggie bed to put next to the desk. 🙂

For most of my gaming life I was a computer gamer as opposed to a console gamer. The first system I owned that could play games was an Atari 400 which I got in 1980 or so, and the first console I bought was a Turbografx-16 in 1989. For a long time consoles were the ‘side project’ and PC gaming was my focus. In addition to playing games I loved building and tinkering with PCs.

As I got older the appeal of PC tinkering faded while at the same time consoles got more powerful and started to get more and more attention from developers. I went longer and longer between PC upgrades and spent more time on consoles. Then I started working from home full time, and that was the final nail in my PC gaming coffin. See, we live in a 2 bedroom apartment. One bedroom is our office and I sit there all day every day working. It is (obviously) where the PC is. When the work day is done, I HAVE to get out of there for my mental health. When you work from home full-time you need routines to help your brain flip over to work mode in the morning and turn off work mode in the evening.

So for the last 5 or so years, at least, I’ve played almost no PC games. Problem is, almost all of my online friends are still over there in the PC world. I’ve tried to find a ‘tribe’ of older console gamers but haven’t had much luck. Every so often I try to combine the best of both worlds and bring PC gaming out of the office and into the living room. So far I’ve always failed.

My most recent attempt began when Belghast mentioned ParsecGaming. You’re probably aware of Steam in-home streaming and the Steam Link system, right? It’s a way to stream games from the PC in your office to the TV in your living room. I’d tried Steam in-home streaming a few times but always found it was more fiddly than it was worth. It turns out Parsec does the same thing, except it works. Parsec actually does a lot more than that; you can stream games from a friend’s house or enable virtual-couch-co-op with far away friends. I can’t speak to those features since I was only interested in office->living room.

Setting it up was dead simple. You install Parsec on both systems and enable sharing on your ‘host’ PC then connect from your remote PC. In my case my remote was a laptop. Even on 5 Ghz wireless it worked pretty well and it gives you full access to the host machine, so if a game needed something tweaked I could do it from the remote client rather than running upstairs to click a UAC “accept” button or something. After playing through a Warframe mission without any serious issues I thought my problem was solved!

Of course laptop on the coffee table isn’t the living room experience I was looking for; I wanted the games on the 60″ 4K TV. This simple idea led me down a rat hole as it seems my Samsung Smart TV is pretty persnickety about having a PC hooked up to it. First I tried connecting through a 3-way HDMI splitter and it was no-go. I bought a higher-end HDMI switch rated for 60Hz and UHD. Still no good. Bought some certified high-speed HDMI cables. Still no good. If I connected direct to the TV it (apparently) worked, so finally I just decided to devote an HDMI port to the PC and it worked…for a few moments. Then the signal started dropping out.

At first I thought it was playing games through Parsec which was causing the dropouts. Or maybe just games in general for some reason (but with this laptop I couldn’t test that since it won’t run games on its own). But long story cut a slight bit, it was a timing thing. It ran fine for a while but even if I didn’t connect to Parsec eventually it started glitching. After trying a bunch of stuff I finally got a system that worked. Turn off UHD Color for that HDMI port. Turn off the TV and the laptop. Turn on the TV, then the laptop. Then I had a steady signal, but I had to do that start up sequence every time, which wasn’t ideal (waking the laptop from sleep wasn’t enough, I had to power it off and on again).

Still it worked! Now I had a wired ethernet connection to the laptop in the entertainment center and a wireless keyboard and mouse over at the couch. I bought the $25 Windows Wireless Adapter for an Xbox Controller (which I later found out I might not have needed; newer Xbox controllers can apparently connect to Windows 10 via Bluetooth). I sat back on the couch and… no, wait I couldn’t sit back, I had to perch on the edge of the couch to use the peripherals on the coffee table.

But it worked! I did another test Warframe mission. Success! Played some of Tom Clancy’s The Division. Success! Except…I have those games on console and frankly my Xbox One X is more powerful than my aging PC up in the office, AND there is some input lag using Parsec. Or maybe it is the PC itself. It’s small and I might not have even noticed if I hadn’t been playing these games on the consoles, but they just felt a tad sluggish while streaming them from the PC.

But what about other kinds of games, like MMOs and strategy games? In a fit of nostalgia I d/led World of Warcraft and tried to play that. It worked fine except a lot of the text I couldn’t read from across the room. Ditto strategy games; most of them just haven’t been crafted with the intention of being usable from 10′ away. It isn’t that I absolutely can’t read stuff, but that I have to really concentrate to read them, which isn’t ideal in a gaming environment when you want to be able to glance at a UI component and understand what it is telling you.

So, that was kind of the end of this attempt. In order to play “action games” I’d need to upgrade my PC significantly which I don’t really have the money or the patience for right now. Text-heavy games don’t work great on the TV so they’re out. It isn’t all bad news though. I can still stream MMOs and strategy games to the laptop with it sitting on the coffee table.

I have a desk in the corner of the kitchen that I’m not doing much with, but WiFi reception there is pretty crummy. So now I’m thinking of getting a 50′ Ethernet cable (cheaper than a Wifi extender and more reliable once it is in place) and running it from the entertainment center into the kitchen so I have a wired connection there. I think using the laptop would be more comfortable on a desk than on our low coffee table. And then I was thinking…maybe I just buy a new gaming PC and install it at that desk in the kitchen and give up on the streaming idea.

Or, crazier idea, subscribe to Shadow.tech and get a virtual gaming PC for about $30/month, at least to start with, just to see if the PC gaming itch ‘sticks’. $30/month is high but better to do that for 2-3 months and then get bored, rather than spending $1500 and getting bored after 2-3 months.

Decisions, decisions….

For the last few months I’ve been really down on social media. I found that too often spending time on the various services wound up depressing me rather than being a positive experience, so I vowed to give it up. I checked-out of Discords (where I’d been most active), stopped logging in to Facebook, vowed to never read comments on articles and avoided Reddit. Twitter was the only network I stayed active on and I tried to do my best to pull away from that.

At first I felt great. I had a lot more free time and felt a lot less stressed. I became an anti social-media zealot, telling anyone who would listen that it was toxic.

Except there was one catch. Without social media, there really was no one who would, or could, listen. As time went by I started to feel cut off and kind of lonely.

See, I’m more or less a recluse, by circumstance rather than design. I work from home, 100%. I don’t make friends easily and since moving to North Carolina really haven’t made any. I have Angela of course and she is terrific but other than her I can go days without talking to another human being (depending on how many work meetings are happening at the time). Since I work and she doesn’t, her job is to do the shopping and run errands so I never really have reason to go anywhere. I walk the dog, of course, but in the winter it’s generally dark and we don’t run into other dogs and their people as much as we do in spring/summer/fall.

Anyway, point is without any social media I was feeling really isolated. So I’m re-thinking my plan.

In 2018, I tried, with modest success, not to engage in topics that frustrate/annoy/sadden me. And by “engage” I mean that literally. I wrote plenty of irate responses but never hit “send” on them. I wasn’t 100% successful with this but I feel like I did OK about it.

In 2019 my goal is to try to find a way to just let these topics slide past me without them bothering me. Because I was bothered in 2018, I just didn’t get into arguments about things. I still felt down about them, which is where my ‘toxic social media’ feelings were coming from. I’m just not quite sure how to accomplish this “let things slide” idea.

In the past week or two I’ve tried to be more chatty on Twitter and tried to engage people on topics that I take delight in. Suddenly Twitter is becoming a source of pleasure again. Maybe it’s just a matter of having more good stuff than annoying stuff in my timeline?

I mean, I don’t want to seem like I’m sticking my head in the sand here, but the things that used to get me riled up were often really trivial. I’m cautious about giving an example because I don’t want to start a debate since that kind of defeats the purpose, but here is one that I don’t think I saw any of my friends said.

There was a thought circulating before the holiday that said something like “If you’re depressed and alone this year, don’t worry, things WILL get better.” So that seems like a positive message to a lot of people I guess. To me it just seems dismissive. You (random person who sent this) can’t know what the situation of the person reading your message is. Maybe they’re losing a battle with cancer. Maybe they’re older and have been watching friends and relatives die off. At some point in life, things will probably NOT get better. Mostly I think my problem with this ties into ageism (an issue I’m getting more and more passionate about). Young people think everyone has all the time in the world and it isn’t so.

Anyway, not to go into a long rant about that. My point was, I didn’t engage in any of these discussions because I KNOW that the people saying this were trying to be kind and positive, so what benefit could come from me going after them? But it did get to me. In 2019 I need to learn to just let stuff like this wash over me and not get me riled.

If I can do that, I think I can use social media as a way to feel more connected to other people. I still need to find “my tribe” but that’s a topic for another post.

Lately I’ve been playing (and very much enjoying) a lot of Forza Horizon 4. I’m something like level 114 and most of that has come from just messing about for hours and hours rather than really chasing concrete goals or getting serious about the racing.

This weekend on Xbox, there’s a “Free Play” weekend for another racing game, The Crew 2, so I thought I’d try it out. It didn’t take long for me to decide that FH4 was a better game for me, but it took me a bit to understand why.

Yes, the driving controls in FH4 are better (IMO) but The Crew 2 has planes and boats, both of which I found pretty fun. My immediate reaction after a few plane and boat races was that I might purchase the game, but over the course of a couple hours I felt less and less inclination to do so.

That was because of the NPCs. Both games are very “lite” on story, but both do have NPCs here and there. I hate The Crew 2’s NPCs and their values/drives. (Am I reading too much into this?) They’re always gabbing on about social media and getting more followers and in general being “extreme” and in my head I’m always muttering “fuck social media and fuck you.” This isn’t just ‘flavor’ because to advance you need to attract more followers.

FH4’s NPCs are kind of bland and barely there, to be honest. Most of the time it’s you in the car listening to the radio and a DJ. The DJs have their own personalities but if one is bugging you, you can just change the station (or turn off the in-game radio and listen to your own music via Spotify or something).

Maybe not the best shot to illustrate The Crew 2 but it’s the only one I captured!


It took a nice long walk in a foggy drizzle for me to realize this was what was bugging me about The Crew 2. It just feels like Ubisoft is aiming their game squarely at an audience that isn’t me. This probably makes the game more interesting if you’re in their target audience, but less interesting if you aren’t. (BTW, I’m the guy that’ll stop playing a FPS if during the tutorial level there’s a Drill Sargent screaming at me and calling me a maggot. I’m The Thin Skinned Gamer.)

I could also imagine some players find FH4 too bland in terms of the ‘stuff other than driving’ experience but frankly I prefer bland to annoying when we talking about auxiliary content. The really dumb thing is, if The Crew 2 just talked about getting “fans” I probably wouldn’t mind it. I’m just sick to death of having social media being shoved down my throat all the time (it’s bad enough in the real world, I don’t want it in my escapist video game fantasies as well).

So yeah, my march into the dark heart of curmudgeon-dom continues… I’m really glad I’m not a game designer who has to try and please me. Thing is, though, there are SO MANY great games available these days that we gamers can afford to be really picky about which ones we like, y’know?

I bought a Nintendo Switch because I am a sucker for hype and limited supply. It was back when Nintendo was struggling (or pretending to struggle, depending on how cynical you are) to keep units in stock on store shelves. I saw an opportunity to get one and went for it before Amazon (I think it was Amazon) sold out again.

Turns out it wasn’t a great decision for me. I set it up alongside the Xbox and PS4 and hooked it up to the TV and after a brief burst of new-toy infatuation, it sat there collecting dust. Truth is, I’m not a huge fan of the popular Nintendo IPs (I thought I was going to love Breath of the Wild but honestly it left me cold), and there’s no reason to play a multi-platform game on the Switch unless you’re taking advantage of its handheld mode. Plus virtually every multiplatform game is more expensive on Switch than on the other platforms.

I don’t really have a lot of use for a handheld since I don’t commute or spend much time out and about, and we have 3 televisions for 2 people so there isn’t much competition for big-screen time in our house. But dang it, I wanted to put that Switch to use because I do have a couple of games on it (Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk) that I wanted to play.

Then last week I got it in my head that I wanted to dip into mobile games. Not even sure why. My eyes are too crappy to really enjoy mobiles games on my phone, and my tablet is so old a lot of them won’t run on it. I was thinking seriously of spending $400-$500 on a new tablet when I thought of the Switch. Instead of mobile games, how about some handheld gaming?

So for the last few days I’ve been treating the Switch like a handheld. I play it a little in bed at night (though that IS cutting into my reading time) and keep it handy so when I have a few minutes of downtime here and there I can pick it up and play a bit. (I’ve cut way back on social media and these little moments are where I used to check my various “timelines” so the Switch is filling those gaps now.) This is working great for turn-based RPG Labyrinth of Refrain, which I restarted. And while the Switch on a 60″ 4K TV looks just OK, the 7″ (or whatever it is) Switch screen looks great.

We’ll see what happens when I try to play Xenoblade this way… I’m not sure it’ll work as well since that game requires some focus. But at the rate I’m going Labyrinth will take me months to get through, so we’ll worry about that problem when it arrives.

I know I’ve said it before, but I guess I’m bad at listening to my own advice. The Switch is a mediocre living room console (at least it is if you’re someone who cares about great graphics) but a pretty awesome handheld. If you want something to play on the TV, get an Xbox One X. If you want a handheld though, the Switch is where it’s at (not that it has much competition in that space).

When Final Fantasy XIII launched in 2009 I, along with many others, was pretty underwhelmed by it. My recollection of playing it was running down endless corridors fighting endless battles and finding the combat an odd mix of frustration and boredom.

More broadly I remember “the community” having 3 main issues with the game:
1) Way too linear
2) Too many cut scenes
3) Boring combat.

When Microsoft announced that Final Fantasy XIII was hitting their backwards compatibility system, my reaction was a shrug until I learned that it was also being enhanced for Xbox One X. I’m always curious about these titles. When it hit BC it was also really cheap, so I plunked down my $6.50 (I think that was the price) and gave it a whirl. People/sites with more patience than I have say the game runs at 1728p on the Xbox One X (vs 576p on the 360, 720P on PS3).

So it sure is pretty, but I’m surprised to find I’m finding it a lot more enjoyable than I did back in ye olde days, too. Mind you, the game play hasn’t changed but looking at that list of 3 problems I find they don’t bother me. Let’s take them one by one.

“Too many cut scenes” is a complaint I didn’t have back when the game launched and still don’t. I’m perfectly content to watch a nicely rendered cut scene.

The “way too linear” thing isn’t bothering me as much this time around and I think this is mostly due to expectation. I knew going in that I was going to be running down those corridors, as opposed to when I first bought the game and kept waiting for that bit to end. I’m told it DOES eventually end but I’m 13 or so hours into this new playthrough and it is still endless corridors.

Boring combat… this is the interesting one. It’s been 9 or so years but my vague recollection of my first attempt at playing FF XIII was that I fought the system the whole time, and now I’m leaning into it. You see, you don’t really play a character in XIII, it’s more like you play “Party Leader”. The game decides (at least for the first 13 hours!) who is going to be in your party and who you control, and while you can issue specific orders to the character you are controlling, you’re really meant to use the “auto-battle” most of the time. I never used the auto-battle because I didn’t want to give up that control, which resulted in battles being a little frantic and me picking the same skills over and over and over.

Instead of telling the character you’re controlling to cast a fireball, you’re supposed to be telling the party “Focus on attacking that baddie” or “You heal and you debuff” and so on. Once you glom onto playing this way it gets more interesting. (And of there there are still situations when you want to choose specific skills, but those cases should be the exception rather than the rule.)

Each character can level up several classes (in MMO terms) and most are familiar. Sentinel is a tank, Medic is the healer, Saboteur is a debuffer, and so on. When your setting up your party pre-battles, you put together “Paradigms” which basically means you set up groups of classes. So one paradigm might have 1 character as Medic and another as Sentinel. Another might have both characters as Ravagers (DPS) and a third would have one on debuff duty while the other is dishing out damage.

During the real-time battles, instead of focusing on the specifics of what the character you are controlling is doing, you concentrate on which paradigm should be active and what enemy to target. Characters change classes between rounds of combat. Really it becomes more a tactics game and an individual RPG combat game.

Here’s an example of the last minute of a fight against some trash mobs:

You see I mostly choose “auto-chain” for Vanille and Sazh I have no control over. In this battle I’m switching between the War & Peace paradigm (Vanille as Medi, Sazh as Commando) and the “Slash & Burn” paradigm (Vanille as Ravager, Sazh as Commando). By choosing auto-chain I let the AI decide specifically what skills Vanille will use, and it’ll base those decisions on what we know about the enemy. It basically makes the same choice you would most of the time anyway, so why not use it?

Anyway I don’t want to drone on forever about a game from 2009, but I’m surprised enough by how much I’m enjoying it that I felt the need to write a blog post about it. That alone is worth $6.50! And I mean, look at the detail on the critter character models that we were missing in 2009! (click to embiggen, as always)

I based the location of my base on the existence of these weird flying critters. They make me laugh every time a herd passes through.

So yesterday I was messing around with The Flame in the Flood. It’s a survival rogue-like kind of game. Y’know, you start with nothing, gotta scavenge for materials to make tools, scavange for food, water, that kind of thing. If you die it’s game over. I of course neglected to take screen shots but here’s the launch trailer. Oh yeah, the soundtrack is pretty good, too.

Anyway the two main hooks here:

Hook 1: The world is mostly flooded. You (and your trusty dog companion) are on a raft being swept downstream. At the start you don’t have a lot of control but you do need to avoid collisions with rocks and stuff because your raft takes damage. If it gets destroyed you drown, game over. As you are swept along there will be little islands you can dock at…if you can fight the current to get to them. These are where you’ll scavange/craft/sleep, but each is pretty small and stuff doesn’t respawn. Once you clear out an island you get back on your raft, never to return.

There are different kinds of islands and each is marked by an icon so while the world is randomly generated, after a while you learn what tends to spawn on each kind of island which helps you choose where to go (it is often the case where you can see several but not be able to get to them all since you’re always being swept downstream). The twist to the hook is that the farther you go on the river, the more deadly the islands become. First there is nothing to harm you (other than lack of food/water, or the cold), then there’ll be wild boars that are easily avoided, then wolfs that will track and kill you. And that’s as far as I have gotten.

Hook #2. At the very start of the game you see this dog find a body and a backpack and he drags it (the backpack, not the body) to where you are camped. The dog (Aesop, his name is) will accompany you and he has his own backpack/inventory. Well surprise! When you die and the game starts over… it is the same dog! And whatever you left in his backpack in your previous life is in there, which helps you get a head start.

So some ‘runs’ you’ll just gather good stuff, put it in Aesop’s backpack and then suicide yourself to get a better start on your next run. And that’s about it. It’s not for everyone, but I’m liking it a lot in short sessions. It’s hard and I get frustrated after a few runs and need to take a break, but that’s the nature of rogue-likes.

I’m playing it on Game Pass/Xbox but it is also available on Steam and PS4. It’s an indy so pretty cheap…probably $15 or so when not on sale.

I’ve been playing through the Gears of War games recently. From a gameplay stance, they’re quite fun, but from a narrative point of view they really bug me. The problem is each campaign (I’m about half-way through Gears 3 at this point) has only a few plot points, but each plot point is dragged out to absurd lengths, with every minor task turning into a set of recursive obstacles to overcome. It is so silly that by Gears 3 even the characters are joking about how nothing is ever easy. I feel like these games could’ve been narratively stronger if there was a longer story with more plot points, but with each point being less cumbersome to achieve.

But when it Rome, right? So I decided to write the script/design doc for the next game, Gears of War: Lunch

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Act I: The quest for bread

Marcus Fenix is hungry and is ready for lunch. However when he opens the bread box to make a ham sandwich, he finds nothing but crumbs! Marcus needs to get to the bakery for a loaf of bread. For company he enlists Sam because once she reads this script I’m sure Claudia Black will sign on to do voice talent and every game is improved by the addition of Claudia Black.

Chapter 1: Trees release me
Marcus knows there’s an old jalopy in the garage they can use to get to the bakery. He and Sam leave the house only to find a storm has knocked over a large tree and it is blocking access to the garage.

Goal: Marcus and Sam have to use their chainsaws to cut the tree up into manageable chunks and drag them out of the way.

With that task done, Marcus attempts to flip a giant switch that is supposed to open the garage door. It is jammed! Sam reminds him that there used to be a remote control for the door and maybe that will work. Marcus calls control on his radio, and Anya provides him with the intel that the remote is in the basement of the house.

Chapter 2: Rats!
Marcus and Sam head for the basement only to find it is flooded. “Ah NUTS!” Marcus shouts, “I can’t get my COG-issued boots wet! We have to find a way to drain this water.” Sam suggests that if they cut off the supply of water, it should all drain away. There’s a giant valve along one wall of the basement and boxes of old Christmas ornaments they can walk on to get to it. The only problem is… there are rats in the basement!

Goal: Trap the rats, get to the valve and turn it off

The flood drains away remarkably quickly once Marus turns off the valve. Sam grabs the remote and they head back to sunlight. The remote works and the garage door opens. They jump into the jalopy but… no keys! Sam mentions that she thinks the keys are stored in the attic because where else would you store car keys?

Chapter 3: Photographs and memories
Marcus and Sam head to the attic. It is PACKED with junk…boxes and boxes of old photos, magazines and other assorted junk. On the back wall they can see the keys hanging on a hook, a single shaft of sunlight passes through a crack in the roof and illuminates them.

Goal: This is a puzzle level. Marcus doesn’t want to destroy anything so he has to carefully push and slide boxes to clear a path to the keys. One mistake and he and Sam will be crushed by a pile of old National Geographic magazines

With keys in hand Marcus and Sam return to the jalopy. It starts! “Ah NUTS!” Marcus shouts, “We’re almost out of gas!” “No worries,” Sam says, “There’s a fuel station nearby, let’s head there before going to the bakery.”

Fade to black, cut scene of them driving through suburban streets and pulling into a gas station

Chapter 4: Hard currency

Note: This is a ‘catch your breath’ chapter. Lots of cut scenes, light gameplay.

Marcus pulls up to the gas pump just as the jalopy’s engine sputters and dies, its tank completely empty. Marcus notices a sign “Please pay in advance.”

Goal: Buy some gas (spoiler: unobtainable goal)

Marcus grumbles and heads inside, holds out his credit card. “Sorry, stinkin’ COGS pay cash!” the attendant shouts. Marcus reaches for his lancer but Sam grabs his arm. “There’s an ATM machine in the corner, just take out some cash, this guy isn’t worth your time.” They head to the ATM, Marus puts his card in but nothing happens. “That ain’t worked in weeks!” the attendant cackles. “Circuit board is fried. I ordered a replacement but I haven’t had time to get to the electronics store to pick it up.” Marcus growls, but Sam says “We’ll get the circuit board and fix your ATM if you’ll sell us some fuel, deal?” “Deal!” says the attendant, “But circuit board first, then fuel. The shop is just down the road a ways.”

Marcus calls Anya and gets GPS data to guide them to the electronics shop, but she notes the shop closes early today. He and Sam start running towards the city. This is a timed segment. They have to avoid both foot and vehicle traffic while maintaining a roadie-run through the whole section.

This level leads them into the city proper. However their way is blocked by an overturned bus. They can’t get past it! Marcus casts his gaze up to the tops of the apartment buildings that line the street. “There’s our road” he mutters. They run up to the front door of one of the apartment buildings, but it’s a secure building; they can’t get in. “Let me handle this, you lack tact.” Sam says to Marcus and she starts pushing intercom buttons at random, trying to sweet talk her way into the building. After the 3rd attempt Marcus loses his patience and smashes his fist into the intercom panel, crushing it. The front door inexplicably pops open. “Or that works too.” Sam mutters.

Chapter 5: What a super building

Goal: Reach the roof undetected

This is a stealth level. Marcus and Sam have to move up the stairs to the roof while avoiding the roaming superintendents. For some reason this building has 5 of them and they’re all in the stairwell. Marcus and Sam can briefly exit the stairwell to let a super pass. When they get to the top floor they notice it is being renovated.

Optional: There is a fire alarm when they first enter the building. If Marcus pulls it, the building will be evacuated and he and Sam can run up the stairs without unhindered.

Once on the roof the pair see that they have to cross the gap to the next building and then one more after that to clear the mess in the streets.

Chapter 6: Planks for the memories

Goal: Get to the third rooftop

Marcus looks at the gap between buildings doubtfully. “Don’t think we can jump that,” he says. “We need a bridge.” Sam says, “What about that construction on the top floor?” The two head back into the apartment building to the floor that is being renovated. They find a plank and carry it to the edge of the building and drop it across the gap.

Now they have to carefully walk across it. The player has to manipulate that analog sticks to help the characters keep their balance. Just as they step off onto the 2nd building, the plank slips and falls into the alley below. They are trapped.

The secret to crossing to the third building is that there is a pigeon coop on this roof. Marcus can push it to the edge of the roof and then topple it over, forming a makeshift bridge to rooftop #3. When he starts pushing it the pigeons get free and he has to shoo them away, push the coop, and repeat until he makes it to the edge. Finally the two can cross to building 3.

But the door to the stairwell is blocked!

The last part of this chapter is finding some repelling gear conveniently left in a corner, and repelling down to the street.

Once back on solid ground, the pair approach the electronics store… and it is closed!! There is no way to get the circuit board. “Ah NUTS!” Marcus shouts. “Marcus,” Sam drawls, “Isn’t the bakery just one street over from here? Why don’t we just hoof it?”

They cut through an alley, get to the bakery and see there is a single loaf of bread left. “Mine!” Marcus screams, startling the baker. “Yes sir!” the frightened man says. “Do you take hard currency?” Sam asks. “Of course we do!” says the baker. Marcus and Sam leave the bakery, bread in hand.

Fade to black.

Act 2: Hamming it up

Marcus and Sam are back at the house, in the kitchen. Sam cuts a few slices off the bread while Marcus goes to the fridge. He opens the door, peers inside. “Ah NUTS!” Marcus shouts. “We’re out of ham! We need to get to the butcher shop, stat!”